The Mobile IoT Innovators spotlight series highlights ambitious companies working on innovative products and solutions using LTE-M or NB-IoT connectivity. To find out more about the Mobile IoT Innovators community, please click here.
Making In-Car Connectivity Cost-Effective
Thinkware is using the low cost and wide coverage offered by Mobile IoT technologies to provide buyers of its dash cams and sat navs with a rich suite of services. In this interview, Tim Sagar, Business Development Manager Europe, explains how his company is working with mobile operators to bundle connectivity into the price of its products.
Please describe how your company came into being.
Thinkware was founded in 1997 in Seoul, South Korea, as a satellite navigation (sat nav) company. As the sat nav business started to decline with the arrival of smartphones, we added dash cams to our product portfolio. Today, we enjoy a 60% market share for sat navs and a 40% market share for dash cams in South Korea, where we use the iNavi brand. Around a quarter of the Korean population own an iNavi product. We use the Thinkware brand outside of Korea.
Please describe how you developed your product.
Thinkware first used a smartphone application and Wi-Fi to enable our customers to manage the footage captured by their dash cams and settings locally. We then enhanced this proposition by connecting the device to the Thinkware Cloud over the Internet, via the customer’s smartphone, a MiFi (a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot) device or a vehicle’s inbuilt hotspot. The next logical step was to replace the hotspot connectivity with a direct cellular connection, which we call Thinkware Connected. Customers can choose from three network options: LTE, LTE-M and NB-IoT. The LTE dash cam has an integrated modem, whereas the LTE-M and NB-IoT products use a separate modem, which also includes a GPS antenna.
How do your products use LTE-M and NB-IoT?
By connecting to the Thinkware Cloud when a vehicle is “in parking mode”, our NB-IoT product can enable a range of services, such as impact notification and picture upload, locating the vehicle and remote power switch off. The LTE-M product offers similar services except the picture upload is replaced by a gif, showing three images: one on impact, one 1 second after and one 2 seconds after. It can also retrieve a live image when the vehicle is parked. As LTE-M supports handovers from one cell to another, we expect to support “driving mode” services in the near future, such as gif upload on impact.
What are the benefits of using LTE-M and NB-IoT, rather than another wireless technology?
Dash cams are about providing evidence in the case of an accident, as well as safety features, such as third-party incident alerts, safety camera alerts and ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) alerts, such as lane departure warning and forward collision warning. To support these services, ubiquitous coverage in all potential locations, including underground car parks and rural areas, is of paramount importance. The extra 20db of coverage gain over and above the standard LTE networks can mean the difference between an incident alert being sent or not. The other significant advantage of LTE-M and NB-IoT is the affordability of the connection, which allows a multi-year subscription to be bundled with the initial cost of the product, which would be unthinkable with an LTE subscription, thus encouraging wider adoption of the service.
How are you working with the mobile operators?
In South Korea, we work with LGU+ for LTE-M and NB-IoT connectivity, providing customers with a two-year subscription package when they buy the camera. As Korea is a relatively small and densely populated country, operators have been able to achieve ubiquitous coverage for LTE-M and NB-IoT relatively quickly. We also have LTE-M coverage in Singapore. Outside of Korea and Singapore, we are launching the integrated LTE product first, beginning in Japan and then Europe, the LTE-M and NB-IoT rollouts will follow at a later date.
What is your business model?
In Korea, our products are sold through Thinkware’s 1,800 points of sale, where people go to have their dash cam or sat nav installed. We provide the subscription together with the mobile operator. In Europe, we are looking at selling through operators’ shops, as well as our own dealer network.
What are your business goals for 2019 and 2020?
Connectivity opens the door to cooperation with related industries, such as insurance and fleet management. Serving these markets will require integration with third party platforms to add vehicle tracking, in addition to remote vehicle location. That would enable us to also offer support services, such as 24/7 call centres, which could monitor the pressing of the SOS button on one of our LTE-connected products. These extra services will accelerate the adoption of dash cams, which is still in its infancy in many countries.
Do you plan to roll out further products and solutions that employ LTE-M or NB-IoT?
Our LTE-M and NB-IoT modems are separate modules, compatible with specific camera models. Outside of Korea, our X700 mid-range product is LTE-M and NB-IoT ready. As we introduce new models, such as the new U1000 top-of-the-range 4K dash cam, we intend to make them compatible with our LTE-M and NB-IoT modems.
For more information please visit www.thinkware.com.